Monday, February 19, 2007

Was Utopia's Last Chapter Nirvana For Critics?

Was Utopia's Last Chapter Nirvana For Critics?

Rounding out a trilogy that began last fall with Voyage, the final chapter of Tom Stoppard's epic The Coast Of Utopia has finally landed with Salvage opening at Lincoln Center. Both Voyage and Shipwreck garnered glowing reviews. Most critics seemed to find the final act somewhat anticlimactic, but still praised the overall landmark effort.

Proclaiming it a "dazzling and wonderfully satisfying trilogy" in his four-star review is Clive Barnes of New York Post: "Looking back at Stoppard's wordy yet exhilarating dramatic tapestry, I'm amazed at how thrillingly this Lincoln Center company -- helped by Jack O'Brien's alertly balanced staging -- has brought it off. (Brían F.) O'Byrne, whose sensitive development of Herzen's character covers the entire span of Voyage, Shipwreck and Salvage, fascinatingly provides the fulcrum of the trilogy. But it's unfair to single him out, since (Ethan) Hawke has never been better than here as Bakunin, a cadging, shining-eyed monster of opportunistic anarchy."

Less enthusiastic about the concluding chapter is Variety's David Rooney: "Traveling with the drama's cast of exiles and emigres through to the conclusion is exhilarating, edifying and at times a little enervating. But even if the final chapter, Salvage, is the weakest of the three plays, the overall achievement remains undiminished....Unlike the first two plays, the elegance and erudition of Stoppard's writing are undermined at times by the challenge of cramming so much information into a dramaturgical package, with characters often recapitulating events purely for the audience's benefit. All that aside, there's still more dazzling stagecraft in any one of these three Lincoln Center Theater productions than most companies can muster in several seasons."

Newsday's Linda Winer appears to concur: "Salvage...isn't remarkable for the one or two boggling visual moments that were the talk of its predecessors. The as masterly as ever, again beginning with the sight of the aging Alexander Herzen in a turning chair that hovers high above the silken ravages of the sea. But this one's moodier, at times hallucinatory, as Stoppard hones in on Herzen, finally the main character among the many....Ethan Hawke, perhaps the biggest surprise of the trilogy, can show the lifelong arch of Bakunin, the overbearing, eager young aristocrat who becomes the equally overbearing anarchist. Jennifer Ehle, so radiantly complex as Herzen's wife in Shipwrecked, now plays the equally complicated but unyielding German governess."

Deeming the production "an ungodly mess" and "heavenly spectacle," Ben Brantley of The New York Times starts his review by focusing more on the trilogy itself: "Despite its status as the season’s ultimate snob ticket, a concert of clever historical name-dropping orchestrated to give middle-brow audiences the illusion of a brow lift, The Coast of Utopia is as hot-blooded and teary-eyed as your average afternoon soap opera. I wouldn’t call it a major work of art. In literary terms I wouldn’t even rank it with Mr. Stoppard’s best....But as directed by Jack O’Brien and acted and designed by a stellar team of artisans, Utopia is a major work of theatrical craftsmanship."

The Associated Press' Michael Kuchwara also weighs in: "Rueful resignation isn't as dramatically exciting, so the Lincoln Center Theater production of Salvage doesn't have the innate theatricality that propelled Voyage and Shipwreck, the first two-thirds of Stoppard's mammoth work. Yet that doesn't stop director Jack O'Brien and his amazing company of actors from breathing urgency into the demanding, sometimes dense conversations of these squabbling European firebrands in exile in Victorian England.... [T]he thoughtful and commanding Brian F. O' the rock who anchors much of the trilogy through its most meandering moments."

Is it a wonder that the marathon performances of the entire trilogy that begin this Saturday are one of New York City's hottest tickets?

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Cleaning Up: Salvage Operation Begins Tonight On Broadway (February 18, 2007)
Did Critics See Ship Wreck Or Hit? (December 22, 2006)
Unstoppable: Stoddard's Shipwreck Coasts Into Opening Night (December 21, 2006)
Did Critics Enjoy Voyage's Ride? (November 28, 2006)
Coast Of Utopia Begins Broadway Voyage This Evening (November 27, 2006)

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At 20 February, 2007, Anonymous Ivonne said...

I have nothing intelligent to add except to tell you that you're awesome.

At 28 February, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Coming from someone whose intellect I respect so very much, as well as being someone I admire, thank you.


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